JWR Wandering Jews

Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 1999 / 5 Teves, 5760

Sam Margolis

Hungary Diarist

Some of Levente Thury's handiwork.
Mystical powers not included.
The Golem-Maker
of Budapest

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LEVENTE THURY'S BUSINESS card describes him as a practitioner of one of the world's oldest professions --- golem-making. Though practiced by only a handful of people in the world today, the making of golems, so to speak, dates as far back as the first page of the Bible, where G-d created Adam in His own image.

Nevertheless, few artists in recent times have followed along in this original line of work. "If G-d could make Adam in His image, then man can make something from his own image as well," explained Thury 58, from a gallery showing his latest collection of golem s along the banks of the Danube in Budapest.

Econophone What exactly defines a golem is imbued in many legends that stretch throughout the world, though golems are most commonly associated with the rotund, hairless clay images of man ascribed to them in Central European Jewish mysticism.

The most famous golem tale tells of the Great Rabbi Yehudah Loew, known as the Maharal. He lived in sixteen century Prague, and made a golem from the clay on the banks of the Moldau River, to aid and protect the community from danger, but, growing too strong, the golem ran amuck and had to be destroyed.

The impish image in clay is largely associated with Judaism and especially with the Kabalah, a school of Jewish mysticism.

Golems have also played many roles in modern literature as well. Isaac Bashevis Singer in his book entitled "Golem " wrote of a giant made of clay, which brought to life by a rabbi, and saves a Jewish banker who has been falsely accused in the courts of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Rudolf II. Pygmalion and Pinocchio can also be considered takeoff tales of Golems.

Thury, who was born in Budapest in 1941 to a Jewish mother, says that his ancestry is linked to the history of the golem. His mother can trace her ancestors to Rabbi Loew. While his father descended from the Hungarian nobility that was set in place by Rudolf II, who was a friend of Rabbi Loew.

Thury first heard the word golem mentioned at the dinner table when his relatives referred to the post-war Hungarian leader Matyas Rakosi as a golem . "They would say he has all the features that one associates with golems. Pudgy and bald," said Thury.

Trakdata As a child Thury remembered that he had always enjoyed playing in the sand and with clay. In 1959, Thury enrolled at the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and afterwards embarked on a career as a ceramicist.

"I was working in ceramics for 15 years when I suddenly realized that all the time I was making golems ," said Thury. "For me a golem is a symbol for what is lacking in life. It can be anything from a dictator to an angel."

Recently, Thury has been asking himself what is missing in the life of Central Europeans ten years after the Fall of the Communist regimes in 1989. Levente is a believer in the communal aspect art can play in society and that Central European society has been caught up in a race for individuals that have little concern for the community as a whole.

"The latest work is to find some sense of moral order that has been lacking here in recent years. Surely it would be a very primitive way of life if we all have to study to become maffiosos. Wouldn't it be better to work towards a collective purpose like bees in a hive?" he asked.

Thury has been playing his part towards modernizing the golem . He now runs the Golem Liberation Movement, a mock-organization he asserts helps him to gain a clearer view of the world through his art.

"I went to America and saw that there were liberation movement for everyone so I decided why not have one for golems. As we liberate the golem we liberate ourselves as well to what is missing in our lives and the potential of what can be," said the artist.

Sam Margolis is JWR's man in Hungary. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©1999 Sam Margolis